Editor’s Note: This is an entry in our Scholarship Contest for Patients and Caregivers to attend the Mayo Clinic Social Media Summit Oct. 17-21 in Rochester, Minn. See this post:
for more details on the contest, and please cast your votes by liking or commenting on the candidates you think would be best.
Here is Patricia McTiernan’s Essay:
The pain started in my neck and feet. I didn’t go to the doctor at first, because even though I was only twenty-seven years old at the time, I thought, “Ninety percent of the world must have a sore neck and sore feet once in a while.” But the pain persisted, my neck became stiff. Soon I noticed I couldn’t bend my wrists all the way, and it hurt to use my hands to do simple activities.
This was before the Internet, before we even used e-mail routinely. I began spending my lunch hours at the bookstore near my office attempting the fine art of self-diagnosis. I thought I might have rheumatoid arthritis, but when I finally went to the doctor, he gave me a neck brace and told me to take Motrin.
When he at last referred me to a rheumatologist, everything changed. Given my earlier suspicion, it was surprising how upset I became when the rheumatologist said I had RA. Yet I was also relieved to be able to put a name to my pain and to have someone involved who, for whatever reason, seemed better able to help me than my internist was at the time.
I became a highly compliant patient, eager to learn as much as I could about this disease and what I, the patient, could do to stay healthy. If the doctor said, “Come back in two weeks,” I did. When all of the books and brochures I read said, “Find an exercise you like, and make it a part of your life,” I began swimming three times per week. When I felt fatigued, I rested.
I firmly believe that lifestyle changes, as well as medical treatment, are often necessary for optimal health—particularly for those with chronic illnesses such as arthritis and diabetes. Although not a scientist, I became very interested in medicine and, especially, preventive care. In my mid-thirties, I left my job in book publishing to become an editor in the communications office at Tufts University. While employed there, I earned a master’s degree in health communication, with the goal of working in some capacity to help people pursue healthier lives. In 1999, I went to work as an editor at Lahey Clinic, a group practice and teaching hospital north of Boston.
Earlier this year I accepted a job as communications director at a small, nonprofit foundation focused on patient safety. My role involves posting news and information to our Facebook, twitter, and LinkedIn pages, as well as writing more traditional communications such as press releases, articles, and web content. I am applying for the Mayo scholarship in my capacity as a patient, however, not in my professional role, though I think it is fair to say that my illness has influenced my career choices.
The world has witnessed revolutionary changes in information technology since I was diagnosed in 1987. People no longer need to stand around a bookstore to attempt self-diagnosis—that is all too easily done now by logging onto a computer or smart phone. While more information is generally better than less, but not everyone can easily decipher which sources are legitimate. I am planning a blog about chronic illness, and one of my personal goals is to enhance my skills at using social media in ways that can help people by providing inspiration and preventive care tips for people with chronic illness, specifically diabetes and arthritis.
Attending the Mayo Clinic Social Media Summit would be invaluable to me as I pursue this goal. Thank you for your consideration.